I read an article written by Colm O’Regan tonight about Divided Attention Disorder. It was yet another one of those articles talking about how our brains are possibly changing as a result of our use of online information. We’ve heard similar arguments from Nicholas Carr, who wrote the article ‘Is Google making us stupid?‘ and has gone onto pen, ‘The Shallows‘. (It’s worth noting I think, that Nicholas is making a pretty penny cashing in on this message.) Colm’s description of the way he works sounds very much like me;
My Internet browser has 24 tabs open. Among them are three separate attempts to reply to the same e-mail. My online banking session has timed out, and in the corner of my screen a Twitter feed is a never-ending scroll of news and links. Which I click. And click.
People who work with me and students I teach are often incredulous at how many tabs I have open at any one time. It’s of no consequence to me; I know what’s there and why I have them open. This is how I live now, and I’m perfectly comfortable with it. I don’t think my brain is being affected in any way. In fact, if I analyse my information seeking ways from the past, this is just part of the natural evolutionary process as I see it.
You see, I’ve always been an information junkie. When I was a young child, reading was my passion. I consumed books from my school library, and if I could get my hands on a copy of the Reader’s Digest, I was in heaven. I loved anything, television media included, that provided me with knowledge, any detail that helped me piece together the workings of the world. I would latch onto a topic, and explore it as best I could, with the resources I had at hand. Very often I was limited by the constraints of the age I was living in. If you were obsessed with ghostly phenomena in the late 1970′s, it was what was on your local library’s shelves that had to get you through.
I haven’t changed. I’m still an information junkie. What has changed is the world I’m living in, and the fact that the information is at my fingertips 24/7, if I choose to use a computing device and pay for an internet connection. Do I read books as much as I used to? No, I don’t. Do I think I need to? Only if they’re worth reading and can provide me with more than what I can access for free from online sources. Is my attention span different? Possibly. But once again, it’s the quality of the information that keeps me reading. If something is good, I’ll devote the time to reading it through. If it contains a hyperlink that has me wondering, I may leave the original source and investigate where it leads me. For me, this has become natural. Yes, I function differently to how I did five years ago, but it’s part of the evolutionary path an information junkie follows I figure.
It’s not for everyone. I had a conversation with a close friend last night about this very thing. We are different. She has no desire to spend hours looking at a computer screen and is content with the way she lives her life. I respect that. Do I think her life may change as more and more of how we access information transfers to the Web? Yes, I do. Will she be like me? I doubt it.
She’s not an information junkie you see, we’re a breed all our own.